Jenks is officially out of the White Sox organization. Even more officially than the Sox non-tendering him in an act of "I would rather be marooned at sea than stomach giving you a raise" disapproval. Boston signed Jenks to a 2-year, $12 million deal to be their set-up man...or perhaps their closer once Papelbon is mysteriously not told the amended take-off time for the team charter out of Oakland sometime mid-2011 after a blown save. That's about as fine as price as I can imagine Jenks getting short of one of those magical 3-year deals after a promising but certainly very troubled 2011.
It never seemed like Jenks was coming back after this season, and up
until still pretty recently I would have mostly blamed him for it. Any
closer's slip-ups are overanalyzed, as is the nature of the role, but I
thought Jenks had painted himself into a corner. He certainly couldn't
field, wasn't particularly mobile or versatile for multiple inning
saves, tended to look like a recent call-up during non-save
situations, and didn't seem to bring any value to the team besides
getting the last three outs.
So when he balked at being taken to task for failing to do that one
thing he's around for, sure he could have been right, but it made him
seem incredibly unaware. Does he really not see how it would serve him
better to be conciliatory after a blown save? Is he really shocked that
the fans turn on the closer after a loss? Does he really think it's a
good idea to tell them to care less? Even if they should?
Jenks' high price (pretty much confirmed Thursday), single-function as a closer, and inability to stay healthy, which was eternally suspected to be the product of his lack of fitness, made letting him walk, nay, riding him out of town seemed like an obvious play.
It didn't seem like it would even be necessary to cite those reasons. Jenks had scoffed at suggestions from management that he should get in shape, complained about the fans harassing him in the bullpen, and despite campaigning for playing time at the end of the season he got stonewalled by Ozzie.
This made Jenks' forlorn musings on his eventual departure from the South Side so confusing and surprising.
per Scott Merkin:
"I still look back at the World Series video and watch the people
chanting, 'Bobby, Bobby,'" said Jenks during a phone interview from his
Arizona home. "The fans really meant so much to me. Honestly, I was hoping that this would not be the case, being
non-tendered. I was hoping I would come back without question.
Obviously, things change in a heartbeat. I'm sad that it has come to
this, where I've become a free agent and I'm talking to other teams."
This threw me for a loop. Jenks was both not embittered, but loved the team and wanted to come back? It begged the question of how the Sox could have reached this point, where they--in need of bullpen help--are kicking a very willing reliever with elite strikeout numbers and a history of not giving up home runs in U.S. Cellular Field to the curb? Why didn't I take more notice when Jenks tried to gut out saves without his best stuff, or pitched multiple innings to try to save a wounded pen?
But the crucial part of Jenks' statement are his notes about arbitration. Like any sane person would, Bobby wanted the fat raise on his $7.5 million salary that his intrepid early years had set him up for, but the Sox, paying their best reliever (Thornton) $3 million and their second best reliever (Sale) pennies, weren't going to do that, or even shell out the $6 million per year that Boston wound up paying him.
The Jesse Crain signing certainly displayed that the White Sox haven't moved beyond dishing out multi-year contracts to relief helps, but they have at least moved to the point of realizing that paying top-dollar for closers isn't spending smart, making Jenks being offered arbitration and likely awarded $9 million a non-starter. Once he was non-tendered, Jenks simply became one of the many free agent relief options, and one of the more costly and less durable ones.
With the way the Sox courted the also pricey and far less durable Kerry Wood, its very likely that management had no intention of bringing Bobby back under any circumstances, and the exact reason why not probably won't be revealed until Kenny Williams gets properly irritated of being asked questions about it and makes a revealing remark, but that shouldn't reduce what Jenks has meant to the franchise.
Not being worth $9 million is not a stinging dismissal of a reliever's skills, rather a reality for almost any reliever with a K/9 under 20, and it doesn't rebuke what Jenks accomplished in a White Sox uniform. As a phenom on the 2005 World Series team with a 100mph heater, Bobby certainly lit up our imaginations as the big, un-hittable powerhouse that every closer is idealized to be, and perhaps he underwhelmed expectations by just becoming a very good reliever. In the years succeeding from the championship, Jenks' game became more nuanced, and he deservedly made two All-Star teams, including in 2007 where he was fantastic and everyone else was garbage.
Not staying healthy could be pointed at as the source of Jenks' demise, as variances in his velocity, nagging injuries that ate away at his mechanics at times, and just an inability to stay on the field (under 60 innings the past two season) provided unwelcome and often very poorly timed interruptions in Bobby's service as a dominant reliever, while his compensation continued to rise, and now it's reached the strange point where the White Sox don't trust Jenks enough to pay him elite reliever money, and they're right for that, and the Red Sox see an available reliever with great fielding independent numbers, and they're right to sign him for 2 years/$12 million.
Such is the nature of Bobby Jenks' career with the Sox, an undoubtedly great talent who probably demands more time and perspective to be properly appreciated.
My favorite memory of Jenks is one I didn't realize the significance of right away. Re-watching the 2005 playoffs via my beloved collector's set of DVDs I was struck by his performance in Game 3. Bobby came in after pitching in the first two games and threw the 11th and 12th inning. He gave up no hits, walked one, and struck out three, but most noticeably dominated the living hell out of the Astros hitters with raw power. Like all of Jenks' best moments when he was really rolling, even if made a small mistake like walk a guy, there never seemed to be the remote possibility of the other team scoring, and it didn't seem like there were any limitations on what Bobby could do.
Turns out there were. But it was nice to think otherwise for a while.
*The complexity of Jenks' tenure with the Sox is shown clearly by how long it took me to put out this piece and how jumbled it came out, for an equally good if not better wrap-up of Jenks, SoxMachine has had one up for a while.